Paul Smith: Articulating Scents

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The lauded British designer reveals the style notes behind his fragrance oeuvre

"For my very first fragrance ten years ago, I went to one of those posh laboratories in Paris, and they asked me what my earliest memories of scent were. I said, ‘well, I can’t remember,’ but actually there were a few scents that stood out; my mum used to use proper furniture polish for example – that was a very distinctive smell in my house when I was a child. Also, because I was a racing cyclist from the age of 12 onwards, the smell of rain and freshly cut grass was powerful, that feeling when the air suddenly feels much fresher. When I was 20, I started travelling abroad, and I remember going to places like Morocco, India and starting smelling some of those more exotic, musky smells and patchouli, that's really stayed with me too.  

"But, to me, a modern fragrance should be something that’s acceptable in many different circles, it’s not confrontational, it’s just easy-peasy. I’m a very straightforward person. My clothes are not attention-seeking, they're not made for the red carpet, they're classic, functional with a twist – and my fragrances are the same. I knew exactly what I wanted with my latest scent, Essential. It's uncomplicated, as comfortable as a classic suit. It just works." 

Paul Smith approaches scent composition as he does fashion design, adhering to a clean, classic aesthetic with a dash of British idiosyncracy. His latest fragrance, Essential, was informed by his softly-tailored signature suit, which he became renowned for in the 80s, providing the antithesis of the sharp, hard-shouldered styles that dominated the era and deftly demonstrating the smart tailoring could, and indeed should, be worn informally. "I like things to be easy and timeless, but always with that little twist, that bit of playfulness in the mix," he states. In his collections, this manifests in witty finishes, trims, buttons and prints – such as his trademark striped silk lining, reinvigorating the inside of a simple blazer or trousers. In his fragrances, it's most evident in the unusual choice of top notes. An uplifting trio of Ozonic Accord, Yuzu and rosemary enliven Essential, for example. "The rosemary makes me think of my garden, or a lovely jubbly pasta dish they serve in Italy," Smith explains, adding. "There's also a hint of musk in there too, reminiscent of my time in Morocco. Well, I do aim to surprise."